CHICAGO — The city’s bikeability is among the worst in the world, per a new report by a cycling advocacy group.
Chicago was ranked 161st out of 163 big cities for bikeability in 2023, according to a report by PeopleForBikes. The city also got low scores for its accessibility of bike lanes to other transit hubs, recreational amenities, connectivity to core services and getting to different neighborhoods.
U.S. cities with the best bikeability included Provincetown, Massachusetts; Davis, California; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, also made it into the top 10, according to the report.
The score was determined by data analysis on city speed limits, the amount of protected bike lanes, grid connections and intersection safety. Chicago’s rating indicates a weak and unsafe bike network, meaning the city “lacks safe bikeways or there are gaps in the network,” the report states.
For many cyclists and advocates, these numbers are a reminder of what it’s like to bike in Chicago — and that safer infrastructure and legislation are needed to improve the city’s bikeability and transportation.
“If you talk to anyone who rides a bike in Chicago or who isn’t in a car, we are constantly coming face to face with our own mortality and having our lives threatened while we are trying to get around our city, but seeing these low scores, it kind of reflects how we’re all feeling,” said Rony Islam, a cyclist and founding organizer of Bike Grid Now, a grassroots collective calling for a safe bike grid in the city for pedestrians and cyclists alike.
Part of why Chicago ranked so low in PeopleForBikes’ report is because the data’s scoring algorithm considers streets with speed limits at 30 miles per hour as unsafe for cycling, which is the default speed limit for most Chicago streets. While that scoring could skew results, it’s part of the problem that contributes to unsafe road conditions for cyclists, Islam said.
“Our speed limits and our laws reflect our values,” he said. “When we have laws that say it’s OK for cars to drive 30 miles per hour next to a bike in a painted bike lane that’s in the door zone of parked cars, I think that’s a reflection of what we think is important in our city.”
After the deaths of numerous cyclists in the past several years, advocates said improving Chicago’s bike grid to increase access and safety comes down to two things: legislation and infrastructure.
Alex Perez, an advocacy manager with Active Transportation Alliance who is focused on improving Chicago’s cycling network, said the report points to the work that still needs to be done, and some that’s underway.
“Having a network of protected bike lines across the city would be a big boost for mileage and an opportunity for people to bike more and increase their safety and comfortability,” Perez said.
Mayor Brandon Johnson has publicly supported a full bike grid along with nearly half of city council members. Cycling advocates are hopeful that it becomes a reality under the current administration and that speed limits will be reduced on busy cycling streets — but people need to keep putting pressure on those in power, Islam said.
Bike Grid Now and Active Transportation Alliance members have been working with the mayor’s team, the Chicago Department of Transportation and other policy and transportation officials to ensure the bike grid gets proper funding, education and changes in policy and legislation.
“We look forward to working with our allies and city council and the mayor’s office, but we recognize that this is something that’s gonna require a fight regardless of who is in office,” Islam said.
Part of that fight means making sure that physical barriers between cars and bike lanes are installed as soon as possible, advocates said. These measures have successfully increased bike usage in other cities, they said.
“We need raised crosswalks, we need bollards, we need bump outs, we need things that protect vulnerable road users and not just rely on people driving well,” Islam said. “But we can learn from other countries, like in Mexico City, in Bogotá, in Paris. They’re installing infrastructure and installing it so rapidly … that’s what’s bringing down traffic fatalities and causing huge increases in biking and transit usage.”
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